With Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord looming over the horizon, what better time to look back at what I personally think is the best Mount & Blade game in the series, and tease ourselves with fantasies of what Bannerlord could be.
Mount & Blade: Warband is the stand-alone expansion to action RPG Mount & Blade. The game was developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment, and is surprisingly the only series TaleWorlds have ever developed, despite being very successful, spawning multiple DLCs/expansions and having a very active modding scene.
Mount & Blade: Warband is a large Open World RPG set in a medieval land named Calradia. It features a completely sandbox gameplay style with no defined storyline, where you are free to roam as you forge your own path in the world. You can choose to assume a huge variety of roles, such as becoming a sellsword for hire, a wandering nomad, or even attempting to establish your own kingdom as you stake your claim as the ruler of Calradia.
Warband can initially feel extremely daunting, as soon as you finish creating and personalising your character, you have a very short tutorial questline, and then you’re thrown into the world without so much as a “go here” or “do this”. However, if you are into your sandbox games like I am, then you quickly overcome the sense of “what the hell do I do?!” by getting stuck into this immersive game and beginning to explore one of the many roads immediately open to you.
I cannot understate the re-playability of Mount & Blade, and hopefully this will also be prevalent in Bannerlord. Every playthrough will be entirely different if you want it to be, even down to details that would be overlooked and considered minor in other similar titles, for instance choosing whether to play as a Male or Female will heavily impact the way everyone, friend or foe, will interact with you.
This is definitely not a quick “pick up and play” game, I always find myself wanting to play for hours at a time to immerse myself and really get my teeth into it. Thankfully though, Warband has so much depth, so many different paths to explore, that you do actually want to play for hours, and it feels incredibly rewarding, rather than feeling like you have to, just to feel like you have progressed.
Due to the very minimal tutorial, there are a fair few mechanics that Warband leaves out that are not necessarily required.. but they damn help! For example, I only found out about 50 hours in, that if you hold CTRL and Space after specifying a location to run to, it will fast forward time! This really helps when you’re having to scale half the continent just to tell Lord A that Lord B says hi.
These menial delivery quests (a few other examples are collecting taxes and bringing minor criminals to justice) do have a purpose however, as the more you do for a particular Vassal, the more they like and respect you. And why do you want people to like and respect you? So they will eventually fight for you!!
And if you do want to become the King/Queen of Calradia, then of course you will need Lords and their armies to fight for you! Coincidentally this is where all of my playthroughs end up, regardless of what plans I have in mind for my character when I start out. Because why be a farmer or a merchant, when you could be a King! That’s what fantasy games are for right?
I know what you’re thinking.. Dom, here you are saying we can befriend lords, and become kings and queens, but I don’t know how to fight! Tell me how to slay my enemies!!
Hold your horses you blood-thirsty hooligans! There are a few things you need to be aware of if you’re to succeed in the very unique, weird and wonderful combat system of Mount & Blade: Warband.
Firstly, all your men are goats, yes you read that right, you haven’t gone crazy quite yet (I think), and more specifically, mountain goats. You know when you see them surreal photos of goats clinging onto the side of a completely vertical mountain, yet they’re somehow miraculously stood upright? Everyone in this game does that.. including you! Which makes for some incredibly irritating, yet absolutely hilarious combat.
If you and your army happen to spawn at the bottom of a mountain, and Lord Bumchin and his merry men are waiting for you at the very top, your troops won’t try to find a path up the mountain with plenty of cover, even if you ask them to. They will gracefully glide up the side of the mountain whilst calmly being pelted by the enemy archers, all of whom seem to have the precision of Hawkeye if you have the difficulty set to anything apart from ‘very easy’. Vice Versa, if you have the good fortune of spawning on top of the mountain, then your opponent won’t be smugly grinning about his perfectly shaped chin for much longer!!
The combat is extremely fun (if a little repetitive, with siege battle after siege battle in the late game if you’re going for the total dominance route), and when the terrain isn’t desperately trying to change your perspective of gravity, then the combat feels really fluid and with the 4-point target system (left-side, right-side, head, chest) both blocking and attacking are very satisfying.
Overall Mount & Blade: Warband is unlike any other Sandbox RPG I’ve played in many ways, quite often for the better, but sometimes worse. If TaleWorlds can iron out some of the more tedious/repetitive aspects of Warband, tweak the combat system and throw in a few new and interesting mechanics to keep us satisfied and intrigued, then with Warband as a comparison, Bannerlord could be a strong contender for one of the best RPGs of 2017.
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I have been a gamer since the young age of 4 or 5, ever since I was sat on my dads lap watching him play Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The first game I played was DOOM, I remember encountering my first enemy, then mashing the ESC button and crying for a while. When I'm not getting my teeth stuck into a good fantasy game, I'm most likely at work being a Desktop Support Technician, and wishing I was playing a fantasy game.